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Eric Akis: A beginner's guide to buying and cooking Easter ham

If you’re new to Easter ham or you’ve not baked one for a while, here’s a step-by-step guide, starting with what kind of ham to buy.
A succulent baked ham flavoured with a spiced maple syrup and mustard glaze makes an attractive — and tasty — Easter dinner. ERIC AKIS

Easter dinner will soon be here and a baked ham is a popular entrée that will be served in many homes. If you’re new to Easter ham or you’ve not baked one for a while, here are some things to consider.

Buying the ham

Bone-in, cured, smoked, fully cooked hams are sold at supermarkets and butcher shops. The latter is a place you might find a whole ham, the back leg of a pig, which could serve 20 or more. At supermarkets, though, you’re more likely to find that leg cut in half and sold separately as the shank portion, the lower part of the leg, and the butt portion, the upper part. These still quite large pieces of ham should yield at least eight servings and what I used in today’s recipe. Both yield flavourful meat, but the shank portion, what you see in today’s photo, has a more classic ham shape and presents better if the ham is served right at the dinner table.

Some stores also sell spiral-sliced ham. To make it, before selling it, the processor runs the ham through a machine with an oscillating blade, slicing it, while still maintaining its shape. With all that extra processing, I’m not huge fan of this premium-priced type of ham. It’s also not difficult to slice a ham yourself.

Prepping the ham for the oven

Before baking it, many recipes, including mine, ask you trim off any excess tough outer skin and thicker areas of fat on the outside of the ham. You then cut the top of the ham with a shallow criss-cross pattern. As the ham bakes, the ham opens up in the places you cut it, creating an appealing look and allowing the galze to seep into the meat.

How to heat and flavour the ham

The hams noted above are sold fully cooked. So, if you want to serve it hot, all you need to do is bake the ham until that’s achieved. When using a 325 F oven, I allow approximately 15 minutes per pound cooking time, or until an instant-read meat thermometer registers 140 F (60 C) or higher. To accent its flavour, during baking you’ll want to brush the ham with a glaze. There are many possibilities, but my glaze combines sweet maple syrup with spicy Dijon mustard and mix of spices.

I don’t have room to provide guidance on how to carve a whole, shank portion or butt portion ham. But online, if you Google the type of ham you want carve, you’ll find informative videos to assist you.

Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Spice Glaze

Smoked tasty baked ham is accented with a nicely spiced maple syrup, Dijon mustard glaze.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 110 to 120 minutes

Makes: eight to 10 servings

1 (about 8 lb. to 9 lb./3.6 kg to 4.1 kg) shank or butt portion ham

1/3 cup maple syrup

3 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves, or to taste

• freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a shallow roasting pan with parchment paper. Trim excess tough skin or excess thick fat off the top of the ham, if there is any. Set ham in the roasting pan. With a sharp knife, score top and sides of the ham in a diamond pattern, making shallow cuts about one-inch apart. Bake ham, uncovered, 80 minutes.

While ham bakes, make glaze by combining syrup, mustard, coriander, paprika, ginger, cloves and pepper in a bowl.

When ham has baked 80 minutes, baste the top and sides of it with a third of the glaze. Bake ham 10 minutes more, and then baste with half of the remaining glaze. Bake ham another 10 minutes, and then baste with remaining glaze. Bake another 10 to 20 minutes, or until the glaze is rich in colour and the centre of the ham is piping hot, about 140 F (60 C) or above when tested in the very centre with meat thermometer. Remove ham from the oven, baste it with pan drippings, tent with foil, rest 10 minutes, and then slice and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.